Middle school students provide huge boost to food bank

By Kevin Hotary - Staff Writer
East Haddam - posted Mon., Apr. 18, 2011
Hale-Ray Middle School students (from left) Amelia Mitchell Carter, Nate Goff, Charles Dickinson, Adam Mosig, Gabe Gometz, Jessica Champlin, Simeone Liberty and Jenna O'Brien in the principal's office filled with food they helped collect. Photos by Kevin Hotary.
Hale-Ray Middle School students (from left) Amelia Mitchell Carter, Nate Goff, Charles Dickinson, Adam Mosig, Gabe Gometz, Jessica Champlin, Simeone Liberty and Jenna O'Brien in the principal's office filled with food they helped collect. Photos by Kevin Hotary.

For the seventh year in a row, students and staff at Nathan Hale-Ray Middle School have gone to great lengths in their efforts to help those who are less fortunate.

“Our kids have a great sense of giving back to the community,” said Superintendent of Schools Ellen Solek. She joined middle school Principal Jason Peacock, school psychologist Carol Rusch and a group of middle school students in presenting Sophie Soja, of the East Haddam Food Bank, with a donation of more than 2,500 food items in addition to more than $1,300, all collected in the last few weeks by middle school students in their annual food drive.

“I believe this is a record,” said Peacock, as he peered out from behind a row of cereal boxes filling the top of his desk. As in previous years, all of the collected items were stored in Peacock’s office until being moved to the food bank, providing extra incentive for the students to collect as much as possible.

The food drive is sponsored by Teens in Action, a community service group whose members work throughout the year on various charitable activities. The group is run by Rusch, with Kaitlin Besier of East Haddam Youth and Family Services. 

All of the kids throughout the school participate in the food drive, said Rusch, with friendly competitions developing between the different classrooms to see who can collect the greatest number of items. And the enthusiasm for the drive is strong.

“Some kids, knowing that it’s coming, save up their own money to give,” said Rusch. Some students, like Jenna O’Brien and Simeone Liberty, start their own food drives to collect as much as they can for their class. O’Brien and Liberty collected food at the Grist Mill to help the cause. Others carry in loads of food in their backpacks. 

Rusch said that she is aware of several students’ families who have used the food bank, and many have friends who have, so hunger “has touched their hearts in some way,” she said.

As in past years, the early spring timing of the food drive coincides with the Cranston, R.I.-based Feinstein Foundation’s drive to fight hunger. For the 14th consecutive year, the foundation has divided $1 million among hunger-fighting agencies by matching one-for-one all of the donations of both food items and money made to the group over the period of the drive to fight hunger. Through the drive, more than $1 billion has been raised to help fight hunger across the United States.   

“The school is always unbelievable,” said Soja of the student and staff effort. She was particularly pleased with the record donation this year, as the number of families using the food bank, at 175, is also reaching new heights.

“I’m just extremely proud of the kids. All of the grades stepped up, and all of the staff really supported this effort. I’m also proud that, as the need of the community rises, student response increases with it,” said Peacock of the record donation.

For the operating hours of the East Haddam Food Bank, which is soon moving to the Grange Hall at 488 Town St., call 860-873-3296.


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